On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Myeengun Henry, a band councillor for Chippewas of the Thames First Nation in southern Ontario. He talks about his nation’s legal challenge to the Line 9 tar sands pipeline.
Pipelines are a key focus of struggle in many regions of the country today, along with other sorts of fossil fuel-related developments that put profits before the well-being of…well, of all human and non-human life on the planet, really. In many places, it is Indigenous nations that are on the forefront of the resistance to pipelines. There are many reasons for this. It is, after all, Indigenous land that companies are attempting to build on without permission, and a strong relationship to land is integral to indigeneity. It is also connected to the broader resurgence of Indigenous nations and cultures, part of which involves asserting rights and traditional responsibilities in ways than past colonial circumstances did not always allow. And partly, the prominent Indigenous role in this struggle is a product of specific aspects of how settler colonialism in northern Turtle Island has come to be, where part of how settler legal and political systems have historically responded to the unceasing Indigenous resistance of the past five centuries has involved making tactical concessions by recognizing rights that amount to fractions and fragments of the sovereignty and self-determination which Indigenous nations have never surrendered. However partial and incomplete, these rights recognized by the settler state can be a way to win certain kinds of practical victories, and can be a basis for expanding the rights and powers of First Nations.
Line 9 is a pipeline that has existed for around 40 years. Historically, it has carried oil from Montreal, Quebec, to Sarnia, Ontario. More recently, the company that owns it — Enbridge — has sought permission to reverse the flow in the pipeline in order to carry not ordinary oil but bitumen from the tar sands to Montreal for export. In order to get this much thicker and heavier substance to flow requires diluting it with a greater range and amount of toxic chemicals.
One of the many communities through which Line 9 flows is Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. When the pipeline was first built in the 1970s, nobody bothered to ask Chippewas of the Thames what they thought about it, and at the time the community’s energies were taken up with surviving in the face of residential schools and other aspects of institutionalized settler colonial violence. With the recent application to reverse the flow, however, and to bring an even more toxic substance through an aging pipeline in a way that puts lives and land at risk, people in Chippewas of the Thames decided that they had to act. In a relatively short time, they developed community knowledge and capacity, and they intervened in the regulatory hearings at the National Energy Board. When the NEB decided in favour of Enbridge, the folks in Chippewas of the Thames were determined to keep up the fight. Though they have not ruled out taking direct action if necessary at some later stage, for the moment they are fighting through the settler legal system. Their argument is that the federal government has not adequately fulfilled its constitutionally enshrined “duty to consult” with their nation. They lost in the Federal Court of Appeal, but despite mounting costs, they decided to push forward with a request to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. When this interview was recorded, they did not yet know whether they would be granted leave to appeal, but since that point the Supreme Court has announced that it will hear the case.
Part of Myeengun Henry’s responsibilities as a band councillor for Chippewas of the Thames First Nation includes looking after the legal challenge to the Line 9 pipeline. He speaks with me about the land, the threat posed by the pipeline, and the legal struggle that his nation is waging to stop it.
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.